You’ve probably heard about the deadly listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupe grown on a Colorado farm, Jensen Farms. Twenty-one deaths (and counting) have been reported out of 109 people infected with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes in over 20 states.
The cantaloupes were voluntarily recalled on September 14, but cantaloupes may still be in refrigerators across the country. Jensen Farms or Rocky Ford-branded cantaloupes should be avoided. Worse, listeria infection can take up to two months to develop in a person who has eaten the cantaloupe, so more illnesses are expected to occur, even after the fruits has been recalled. The CDC and FDA say that cantaloupes from other farms are safe to eat, as this outbreak has been linked to only one farm.
Listeriosis, the disease caused by listeria bacteria, is rare, but is deadly to 30 percent of people infected. Among the elderly, 90 percent are hospitalized after infection. In pregnant women listeria usually causes mild illness, but can result in stillbirths or miscarriages. Previously, listeria outbreaks were mostly associated with deli meats and soft cheeses. Pregnant women are usually cautioned to avoid processed meats and soft cheeses for this reason. Cantaloupe may now be added to that list.
Cantaloupes are known to be more susceptible to bacteria contamination due to their rough skin, a veritable hide-out for bacteria. If listeria is present on the rind, when cut open, the bacteria will contaminate the fruit. It is also more difficult to clean cantaloupe because of the rough surface. It’s probably best to clean the skin, and then also rinse the cut fruit before eating.
For the latest updates, visit the CDC’s listeria webpage.